Catching Fire Scorches the World With $307M Opening

The Hunger Games sequel held serve by setting an opening-weekend record for a 2-D movie

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“I’m not going anywhere,” Katniss Everdeen tells her hometown beau. “I’m gonna stay right here, cause all kinds of trouble.” Beyond District 12 to all of Panem, and from the U.S. into the worldwide market, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire caused all kinds of business. As in box-office bonanza.

The second film from Suzanne Collins’ best-selling YA trilogy won the weekend at North American theaters with $161.1 million, according to preliminary estimates from its distributor Lionsgate, and pulled in another $146.6 million in 63 international markets, for a golden global total of $307.7 million.

(READ: Richard Corliss’s review of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire)

That’s not bad for a property whose name was unknown before the 2006 publication of Collins’ first Hunger Games novel, and whose warrior protagonist is a teenage girl whose salient qualities are that she’s “stubborn and good with a bow.” Easily topping the $152.5-million debut of The Hunger Games last year, Catching Fire was surely spurred by the marque allure of its Katniss, Jennifer Lawrence, who in the interim between the two films earned a Best Actress Oscar for her role in the hit dramedy Silver Linings Playbook. She went into the Collins franchise a youngster, and has come out a star.

(READ: Laura Stampler on Jennifer Lawrence, our Imaginary Best Friend)

Catching Fire registered the fourth all-time highest opening weekend in domestic theaters, behind The Avengers ($207.4 million), Iron Man Three ($174.1 million) and the Harry Potter finale, Deathly Hallows Part 2 ($169.2 million). Those three movies were released in 3-D, and the surcharge for spectacles considerably hiked their grosses. There’s no question that Catching Fire attracted more paying customers, though at a lower ticket price, than IM3 or HPDH2. If it holds to its estimated gross and stays ahead of the $160.9-million premiere of The Dark Knight Rises (also in the old-fashioned format), Catching Fire will have registered the all-time top weekend for a 2-D movie.

[MONDAY UPDATE: According to final figures issued this afternoon, Catching Fire actually earned $158.1 million, or about 2% below its Sunday estimate. That means the second Hunger Games movie was aced out by the second Christopher Nolan Batman movie for the all-time best opening weekend for a 2-D picture, and had the fifth, not fourth, highest three-day total for any movie. Delivery Man and Philomena each fell more than 3%, to $7.9 million and $128,435, respectively. Disney’s Frozen was up 2%, for a mammoth $243,390 at one L.A. theater. As we’ve said elsewhere about this animated feature: thawsome!] 

(READ: Lev Grossman’s exclusive interview with Suzanne Collins and Catching Fire director Francis Lawrence

Produced for $130 million (about $50 million more than The Hunger Games), Catching Fire expanded its reach to two constituencies underrepresented in last year’s audience: guys and foreigners. In domestic theaters, the percentage of men jumped from 29% for The Hunger Games to 41%. The audience also included a wider range of ages: at least half of the first weekend’s attendees were over the age of 25. First-nighters polled by the CinemaScore research team gave the movie a sterling “A” grade. And few seemed to worry, as many did about the first movie, that Catching Fire is a suggestively violent kill-or-be-killed parable populated with teenagers.

(READ: Mary Pols wonders if Katniss is O.K. for kids)

Turns out that men are helpful but not essential to the early grosses for certain big movies. Five of the top 11 all-time opening weekends have gone to movies — the two Hunger Games movies and three installments of The Twilight Saga — whose main character is a young female. And in a rebuke to the Hollywood wisdom that only men can create smash movie projects, six of those 11 biggies were based on novels written by women: J.K. Rowling‘s Harry Potter (no. 3), Collins (nos. 5 and 7) and Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight (nos. 9, 10 and 11). The others are comic-book franchises from Marvel (The Avengers, Iron Man Three and Spider-Man 3 at nos. 1, 2 and 8, respectively) and DC (The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises at 5 and 6). We note with a sigh that all 11 movies were directed by men.

(READ: Lily Rothman on Catching Up with the Hunger Games plot before Catching Fire)

Abroad, Catching Fire was tallying about twice as much as its predecessor in the same period, which gleaned only about 40% of its worldwide total from overseas. The Hunger Games amassed $408 million at home but fell short of $700 million worldwide. Since the billion-dollar blockbusters typically earn at least 60% of their total take outside North America, Catching Fire needs to make serious incursions abroad if the final two films — Mockingjay Part 1, due out next November, and Mockingjay Part 2, for 2015 — are to achieve their full financial potential.

(READ: Eliana Dockterman on What The Hunger Games Can Teach Tweens)

Elsewhere — what little elsewhere there was, considering that Catching Fire snagged 70% of the domestic weekend’s total gross — two other sequels, Thor: The Dark World and The Best Man Holiday, came in a distant second and third place, respectively. Finishing a dismal fourth, the Vince Vaughn sperm-donor comedy Delivery Man shot blanks, with just $8.2 million in 3,000 theaters. Eighth, ninth and tenth places went to three Oscar hopefuls: the space adventure Gravity (nearing $250 million domestic and $600 million worldwide), 12 Years a Slave (closing in on $30 million without yet playing in as many as 1500 theaters) and Dallas Buyers Club (which expanded to 666 screens and has hit $6.45 million).

In limited release, Philomena, a true-life story starring Judi Dench as a woman trying to connect with the son she was forced to abandon 50 years earlier, opened to an encouraging $133,700 in four theaters. The Weinstein Company sharpened the movie’s profile by battling the MPAA over a restrictive R rating. Despite its use of the phrase “f—ing Catholics,” Philomena ultimately won a PG-13 rating, and oodles of free publicity. It will receive more attention when Dench is nominated for a Best Actress Oscar.

(READ: Mary Corliss’s review of Philomena)

The most impressive limited opening was for the Disney animated feature Frozen. Doubling the Mouse House royalty tradition by providing two princesses in peril, Frozen played an exclusive engagement at Los Angeles’ El Capitan Theatre and took in $238,000, prior to its wide release on Wed. On Thanksgiving weekend, Elsa and Anna will join Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss as the movies’ reigning teens.

(READ: Richard Corliss’s review of Frozen)

Here are the Sunday estimates of this weekend’s top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo:

1. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, $161.1 million, first weekend
2. Thor: The Dark World, $14.1 million; $167.8 million, third week
3. The Best Man Holiday, $12.5 million; $50.4 million, second week
4. Delivery Man, $8.2 million, first weekend
5. Free Birds, $5.3 million; $48.6 million, fourth week
6. Last Vegas, $4.4 million; $53.9 million, fourth week
7. Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, $3.45 million; $95.5 million, fifth week
8. Gravity, $3.3 million; $245.5 million, eighth week
9. 12 Years a Slave, $2.8 million; $29.4 million, fourth week
10. Dallas Buyers Club, $2.77 million; $6.45 million, fourth week